Making formative assessment easy(er)

Quizzing is a great way of doing formative assessment. However, if you have ever tried to write a multiple-choice quiz, you will know it’s hard.

It’s really hard.

It looks easy but you soon learn the road is paved with pitfalls and bear traps.


Because of guessing.

Guessing is a massive confounding problem. To counteract it you have to:

  • Devise several plausible distracters
  • Avoid intuitive facts and things that pupils have a modest idea of
  • Ask lots of questions

Many question writers find themselves deliberately misleading as they try and find a non-obvious way of asking about a concept. This is both hard work and leads to invalid questions.

And it’s not just MCQ: I’ve been reading up on Dylan Wiliam and the idea of hinge questions*. Exactly the same problem exists for these quick checks as for a longer quiz – coming up with a question is surprisingly hard work. Why? Because it must be challenging to be useful and many questions (in the context of a lesson on the same subject) will be too easily answered through guesswork.

Certainty-marked assessments correct against guesswork. One of the biggest advantages this brings is that it is easier to write questions. Even a lone true-false question (the easiest MCQ to write but highly guessable) gains a diagnostic significance if it can score between -6 and 3 marks. This means there will be many more questions you can ask that have the diagnostic power you need to inform teaching and learning.

Using a certainty-scoring system makes questions harder in a valid way and without additional teacher effort. This is exactly what edtech should achieve: Teachers’ practice is more effective and their job is made easier by technology.

*So much so that there’s probably a whole post to write about how certainty-marked assessments – and the data they produce – would work for this purpose.




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